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PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The book is a real life account of the experiences of a white author, John Howard Griffin, who temporarily transforms himself into a Negro for six long and intense weeks. This is so that he can personally experience Negro oppression and exploitation. It begins on October 28, 1959, with the authorís dramatic decision to undergo medical treatment to change the color of his skin -- an historic act for a white man at a time of rabid white racism. The book then develops as an autobiographical diary, recounting almost on a day to day basis, till August 17, 1960, the authorís multiple experiences as a Negro; the good, the bad and the ugly that he personally encounters. How he is denied the very basics of life like food, water, rest, shelter, toilet. How even his mind is destroyed through hate and fear. How his only identity is as a consumer or laborer, or for the leisure or pleasure of the whites.
But the book also describes and depicts other men and matters. The author encounters innumerable common Negro men and women, who show him much courtesy and generosity even though they are total strangers. One such person is the Negro shoeshine man Sterling Williams, the authorís first Negro friend. Then he also meets a few uncommon Negro men in Atlanta, who reveal to him the heights to which they have climbed in spite of all odds and obstacles and their contribution to the Negro cause and their Negro brethren.
He also meets a few common sensible and sensitive whites, who help him pull through his moments of agony. And then there are also the uncommon white media men, not only with name and fame, but also with a conscience, who are ready to stand up for the truth whatever the cost. One such person is his friend, the journalist P. D. East, who is paying the price together with his wife and child. Others are ready to tell his story, as it is uncut and uncensored.
Finally, when the authorís experiment in truth ends, he returns home once again as a white, to bouquets from moderate and liberal whites, brickbats from traditional and conservative whites, but barbarism from racist and reactionary whites, especially in his hometown. And he is most dismayed and disillusioned when his effigy is hanged in public on the main street and a cross is burned at a Negro school near his house and he is threatened with castration, but without any public outrage or outcry. Thus at the end of his experiment in truth, the author is forced to leave America and migrate to Mexico with his family, for peace and security. But before leaving he hopes against hope that white racism will not engender black racism, for then there will be a holocaust that will destroy even the good and the innocent.